By Skwerl at 3:14 PM Thursday, April 29th 2010
Open Hand has been a tough act to keep track of, but their 2005 album You And Me has always been good enough to hold our attention. We caught a rare glimpse of them out in the wild last month, and now we’re happy to report that they’re back, with a worthy follow-up, entitled Honey.
Officially released on Tuesday of last week, the advance copy we received on CD features the same 17 tracks as the iTunes version, but in a wildly different order. As a fan of the album experience, this was no trivial detail. I’ve been going back and forth over the past week, listening to the tracks in one order, and then the other, all the way through. Ultimately, I settled on the original CD ordering, as listed at the bottom of this review. [Quick note: Looks like iTunes has corrected the track ordering to match the CD. Thanks, Tom.]
One of the reasons it’s hard to keep up with Open Hand is that over ten years, they’ve gone through over 20 different members, many providing vocals. Yet despite that, for the most part, Honey doesn’t sound vastly different than You And Me, with many tracks faithfully following the more aggressive songs such as Pure Concentrated Evil, Tough Girl / Guy, and Take No Action.
There’s an outstanding core of four songs that are among the band’s finest to date. Herrons, The Hand, Son Of A Gun, and So Far are well worth the price of admission, all displaying the band’s key strengths. The songs are structured to leverage force from every change, and the driving rhythms are balanced against backup harmonies, complex lead guitar accents, and the occasional tricky drum fill.
The latter two of these four tracks are the best on the album. Son Of A Gun has a classic quality that channels indie neo-punk into the body of Peter Gabriel’s third album, with synthesized xylophone accents and chorus vocals. So Far is a bit more straightforward, and more representative of the album:
With that tight core of flawlessly crafted indie rock songs covered, there remains thirteen others that are a total grab bag, in terms of both style and quality.
There are some melodic shoegazers. Some groove more effectively than others, particularly Golden and Midnight Sun. Old Hat and Cool are two upbeat tracks that just barely fall short of the strength of the aforementioned four. What Is This? and Risky are a little self-indulgent, sounding like post-rock jam sessions, built around a few of those fancy guitar arpeggios commonly found in the more progressive niches of indie rock. But they’re not unwelcome.
On the other hand, there are a few tracks so outside of the album’s tone and genre, it’s startling.
The Valley is a rap song, featuring Christopher Reid, none other than Kid of Kid N’ Play. And it gets weirder when we get to The Angels, a trashy dance song right off of an Amanda Blank or Ke$ha CD.
Weirder still, Pilgrim is a blues rendition of Karl & Harty’s I’m Here To Get My Baby Out Of Jail, written in the 1930s. I’m not sure who performed the version that appears on Honey, but it wasn’t Open Hand. However, that one manages to work where Valley and Angels most unfortunately do not, fitting in nicely despite being the furthest out in left field. Also, Bre, sung in a foreign language I’m not cultured enough to identify, fits better sonically than it would seem to on paper.
None of these deviations come across as tongue-in-cheek or ironic; It’s just all part of an anything-goes mixtape characteristic that Honey has, for better or worse. Also contributing to this feel are brief samples littered throughout the album, from various movies, such as Commando, The Road Warrior, and Parenthood. These sound bites often serve up the songs, such as Larry Buckman’s introduction on Cool.
The bottom line is that there’s a lot packed into 50 minutes across 17 tracks. It can be a bumpy ride at times, but as I said in the outset, a worthy follow-up to the amazing You And Me is definitely there to be found in Honey.